Take that!

Aerodrome Safety reported that the aircraft, a French registered CL-5T ( Global Express) arrived at Whitecourt and parked at the forestry ramp without asking permission or requesting prior authorization. Fire fighting operations were and have been in full force for three weeks at Whitecourt. Firecats, CL- 215 etc. not to mention helicopters of all shapes, stripes and sizes. The crew were asked to move their aircraft because two Lockheed Electras retrofitted for aerial fire retardant/firefighting needed the ramp space. They reluctantly moved their aircraft when told that if they didn’t airside operations would. After all this the crew then went on a walkabout and were intercepted by the APM who gave them verbal counseling on airside protocols and etiquette in both official languages. The APM was born in Three Rivers QC so the language card that the crew attempted to use was trumped.

The wing and the prayer

News of Boeing’s decision to postpone the first flight of the 787-8 zipped around today, and I was struck initially by a profound sense of sadness. I am by no means any kind of stakeholder in the whole composite airplane adventure, nor does the timing of the 787’s entry into service affect me in any meaningful way. (My airline of choice is a customer, and the routes I fly most are likely to be the ones served by the 787, but that’s years in the future anyway.) But I’ve been following the 787’s development closely, I was lucky enough to be in the cabin mock-up in Everett last year, and I think it’s quite possibly the sexiest commercial airplane I’ve ever seen.

Here’s the thing I’m seeing only sporadically, though. This is serious bleeding edge work Boeing’s doing. We’re used to aircraft development cycles looking a certain way, but the normal rules of the game don’t apply because everything is different this time. Boeing said that about the 777, too, and Airbus said the same thing about the A380, but when you’re not building the airframe out of aluminum anymore all bets are off. And so the research and development (heavy emphasis on “development”) are going to take time. I’m not sure a lot of aviation enthusiasts (read: blog commenters, who seem to take the politics/team sports approach to building aircraft) or investment advisers get this.

It reminds me of nothing so much as the stories from the early part of the space race, when the Americans kept having problems with their rockets blowing up — and this was evidence of American weakness in space, or deficiencies in science education, or a failure of political leadership, or incompetence, or whatever. It’s not. It’s totally normal. It’s a well understood and accepted part of aircraft development. When you’re doing engineering, it takes time to get the thing right. Major advances in aerospace technology do not come easily, cheaply, or on schedule. We didn’t understand this back in the 1950s and 1960s, and we clearly don’t understand this now. It’s probably a good thing that Orion and Constellation are happening mostly out of sight (really, when was the last time you saw a public story about the performance of either without having to go looking for it), because otherwise we’d be hearing about the slow pace of development and whether or not the whole thing was worth it in the end. (That’s a debatable point, and probably a debate we should have, obviously, but you know what I mean.)

Boeing has understood this from the beginning. For all the hype, for all of the scheduling, I’ve never actually heard them say “the thing will fly on this date.” No, it’s been, “it will fly when it’s ready to fly.” And good for them. That isn’t satisfying to the kids with the keyboards (of which I am one) or the bankers who live and die by the quarterly profit projections, but it is how the real airplane nerds do things.

Still, I was thinking of how I might sneak down to Everett next weekend, and I got a little silly smile on my face trying to figure out how to make it down and back in a day, and now I guess those plans can go on hold. For the moment, anyway.

Open Letter #91: A bullet hole in my bucket

Dear Canadian Top 40 Radio Stations,

I know you have to fulfill your Canadian Content programming requirements, but for the love of God, you really, really, really have to stop playing Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Bucket”. Anyone who samples children’s nursery rhymes is — well, let’s be honest here, there are no words to describe that degree of musical atrocity. We should be clear that I don’t harbor any particular animosity towards Ms. Jepsen, and I am unfamiliar with the rest of her work, so it’s not like I’m judging her or her music in general — just this one song. It’s awful, even by the standards of contemporary Top 40.

We put up with a lot of bad music these days. We tolerated, for instance, Katy Perry being shoved in our faces and ears even though we all knew how annoying she was. And we’ve all cataloged the four P!nk songs (well, the four categories of P!nk songs, anyway), and we tolerate her continued presence even though her recent material is neither as interesting nor as edgy as it used to be. I’ve gotten over the fact that Kelly Clarkson apparently only had one really good album in her, and what we’re hearing now seems to be some kind of experiment in cultural longevity. (Some of us — like me — are holding out a bit more hope for Kelly.) I am prepared, under the right circumstances, to pretend that Lady Ga Ga is about more than just not wearing pants (or any bottoms, really) and is not suffering from a rare case of retinal hypersensitivity requiring the continual wearing of wrap-around sunglasses.

I can even cope with the fact that Nickelback apparently has “new” music out, though that’s a derived data point, since I can’t actually tell any of their songs apart.

In short, I’m willing to listen to your radio station because it is (a) there and (b) doesn’t generally cost me anything except the occasional micron or two of tooth enamel. But “Bucket” needs to be thrown in a sack, the sack thrown in a river, and the river hurled into space. It’s easily the most irritating thing on the radio right now, and it’s twice as irritating because it gets stuck in your head, you start humming it at the wrong time, and then you’re angry all over again. The only fun part is how you can annoy other people with it, but that’s not really the point of music, is it? So please, I’m asking you as nicely as I know how: stop playing this song. I’ll let you replace it with some new Britney abomination, and things will be OK. Promise.

Lots of love,
-m.

P.S.: If you wanted to send that Karl Wolf guy’s Toto cover off into deep space too, that’d be cool with me. One or the other — it doesn’t really matter. OK? Please? Thanks.

Low speed, high drag

It only took 4.5 years, but I’ve finally put some of my favorite pictures from Japan online. Turns out that going to Flickr is a lot easier than writing a bunch of HTML. What can I say? I’m weak.

Going through these pictures was interesting. Most of them I could caption and talk about without having to consult my notes, though a few place names and spellings were elusive. (I could not, for the life of me, remember who Jizo was, for instance.) Which I think is pretty good for something I did almost half a decade ago. The other thing that stood out for me is that man, I’ve really fallen off the quality ladder when it comes to photography — I clearly used to be able to occasionally take a moderately good photograph, and now, it’s like, yeah, ok, whatever. (Writing on the blog on a regular basis has also reminded me that I used to, you know, be able to write, which clearly isn’t true anymore, either.) So obviously I’ve got some work to do.

(Tip: When you’re feeling bad about your own photography skills, do not go looking at other peoples’ photographs on Flickr of the same subjects. It will only depress you.)

Also, you can now get to 365 by banging the link over on the right hand side of your screen. That gorgeous typeface is Dear Sarah, if you cared.

Next up: Europe! (By 2011, I swear.)

Pensee

There are few things more disheartening to a nerd than trying to retrieve data off a hard drive that is in the process of failing intermittently. It’s like playing a kind of backwards slot machine: how much data will come off in this session? 10MB or 10GB? And how long until it fails catastrophically and you’re stuck with no way to get the data off entirely? Who knows!

Big hard drives are nice. What would be nicer is if a good backup strategy existed, beyond, “duh, buy more hard drives.” Um, yes. So I can have a collection of variably viable devices lying around the house, the failure of any one of which might leave me without access to my files. Yeah, okay, I know about mirrored RAID and all that other fun stuff, but damnit, you still need some kind of offline backup strategy!

I never thought I’d say this, but I miss tape.

Outcome measures

Atul Gawande has a tremendously important article in the 1 June 2009 issue of The New Yorker, which should be read by everyone, regardless of ideological bent, who cares about health care reform in both the United States and Canada. It is very enlightening: does spending a lot of money on health care actually produce better outcomes for patients? (Answer: no! but not for the reasons you might think.)

The truly telling part, for me, was the discussion about overutilization:

I gave the doctors around the table a scenario. A forty-year-old woman comes in with chest pain after a fight with her husband. An EKG is normal. The chest pain goes away. She has no family history of heart disease. What did McAllen doctors do fifteen years ago?

Send her home, they said. Maybe get a stress test to confirm that there’s no issue, but even that might be overkill.

And today? Today, the cardiologist said, she would get a stress test, an echocardiogram, a mobile Holter monitor, and maybe even a cardiac catheterization.

“Oh, she’s definitely getting a cath,” the internist said, laughing grimly.

I was floored by this passage — and by the later discussion about the motivational role that money plays in clinical decision-making. (That’s an educational piece that probably should be saved for another day.)

What’s really interesting to me, though, is what this implies about scarcity and resource allocation. One of the more annoying complaints from Republicans and their proxies on this side of the border is that Canada’s health care system has shortages of all kinds of stuff, and that you’ll have to get in line to have your MRI or whatever, and it’ll take six months. Ok, fine, that’s probably true a lot of the time, and in the United States you could probably have that test, and a whole bunch more, within a matter of hours. (I think Phoenix has more MRI suites that the entirety of western Canada.) But what I want to know is this: how many of these tests, more freely available in the United States than in Canada, are clinically relevant, how time-sensitive are they, and (this is the critical part) how many fail to turn up anything of significance? Great, so you catheterized that patient, and the coronary arteries were clear. Yay. What have you done? What value have you provided the patient? (We’ll ignore the very real risks of cardiac catheterization here.)

I don’t get it. But that might be why I work here, not there.

"Bruce Springsteen singing for a Cure cover band"

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about The Gaslight Anthem for a couple of months now. It’s challenging. When I wrote my giant mash note to Edie Carey and Rose Cousins, I was writing about a couple of singer-songwriters who were basically unknown except to a handful of dedicated and devoted fans, in the hopes that other people might start spreading the word.

It’s different for The Gaslight Anthem. They actually are getting airplay, and eMusic even called their sophmore album, The ’59 Sound, released in August of last year, the best album of 2008: “Because they are destined for greatness, and because this album means they’ve already achieved it.” And where I could gush about Edie Carey and Rose Cousins and talk about how they made me feel in ways I hadn’t felt in a long time, I can’t do the same about The Gaslight Anthem — not because their music isn’t emotionally evocative or anything, but because it doesn’t work in the same way. Mostly.

They’re just really, really, really good. And where I loved Another Kind of Fire with my heart, I love The ’59 Sound with the part of my brain that likes to pretend it knows something about music. I love the way Brian Fallon manages to somehow blend Jersey Shore with punk rock sensibilities, the fact that they’re unashamed about cribbing lyrics, titles, and themes from movies and literature, the fact that once again music seems to be telling stories. And the sound — holy hell, it’s good. The post title does a good job of describing it, because it’s not quite like anything you’ve heard before but is immediately familiar if you grew up listening to music in the 1970s or 1980s. Echoy reverb for the vocals and big, pounding arena-rock-ish drums.

You get this feeling, listening to the album, of dusty back roads, old cars, dead-end jobs, and a longing for escape. I’m fascinated by songwriting that can transport you to a specific time and place, and this stuff feels very much like the sort of music you might write if you had to live in Texlahoma circa 1960. Trapped, unhappy, trying to get out — and these are your experiences.

But then there’s “Here’s Looking At You, Kid”:

You can tell Gail if she calls
That I’m famous now for all these rock and roll songs
And even if that’s a lie she should’ve given me a try
When we were kids on the field of the first day of school
I would have been her fool
And I would have sang out her name in those old high school halls
You tell that to Gail, if she calls

And you can tell Jane if she writes
That I’m drunk off all those stars and all these crazy Hollywood nights
That’s total deceit, but she should have married me
And tell her I spent every night of my youth on the floor
Bleeding out from all these wounds
I would’ve gotten her a ride out of that town she despised
You tell that to Janey, if she writes

But boys will be boys
And girls have those eyes
That’ll cut you to ribbons sometimes
And all you can do is just wait by the moon
And bleed if it’s what she says you oughta do

You remind Nana if she asks why
That a thief stole my heart while she was making up her mind
I heard she lives in Brooklyn with the cool
Goes crazy over that New York scene on 7th avenue
But I used to wait at the diner
A million nights without her
Praying she won’t cancel again tonight
And the waiter served my coffee with a consolation sigh
You remind Nana, if she asks why

And then you realize that you can love this album with your heart, too. What can you say to that kind of brutal honesty, the conversation you always wanted to have with your ex-flames or the great, unrequited love of your life? I turn that bridge over and over in my head, and I keep thinking about how you sometimes find music that captures some fundamental truth — and there it is. “And girls have those eyes / that’ll cut you to ribbons sometimes.” Oh, wow. It’s not the sort of song whose meaning you immediately get when you’re under about 25; the true emotional resonance comes later in life.

In the end, I’m not sure this album is for everyone. Scouting around, I found a lot of criticism that it’s not actually punk. I don’t pay enough attention to punk to know whether this is a fair criticism or not, but I’m also fairly sure I don’t care. It exists in its own space of awesome; much like lovers of a particular brand of Nova Scotia beer, I suspect that those who like Gaslight will like it a lot, and the rest will be somewhat indifferent. You’ll either get it or you won’t, but it really deserves a good solid listen with an open mind. Either it’ll blow you away from the first track, or you’ll shrug and move on.

On a shorter note, I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I also have a guilty, lightweight favorite right now: Valerie Poxleitner, a.k.a. (d.b.a.?) Lights, Canada’s answer to, uh, Bjork. Shut up. It’s good.

Ahhh.

After 6+ months of letting it pile up in my mailbox, I have managed to reduce my “unread, unsorted, and unreplied-to” collection of e-mail from 3,651 messages to 0. Okay, I had to vaporize a bunch of mailing list traffic I probably didn’t care about to do it, but I’m all caught up, and Thunderbird will no longer taunt me with the “hey, lazy bastard!” counter on the left side of my screen. Thank god.

Note to self: Having a Blackberry is great, in that you keep on top of the e-mail you care about. Reading threads on NANOG, on the ‘berry, is not so much fun. So maybe think about how to deal with that problem.

But, hey! I found an interesting gem in my inbox, and it was only from late in April! Yes! Timeliness, thy name is LiT! Brazillians hack US Navy satellites. It’s like Captain Midnight, but 1,000 times cooler.